Eastern Steller sea lions removed from endangered species list

This July 12, 2007, photo taken during research conducted by Alaska Department of Fish and Game shows a group of eastern Steller sea lions. Alaska Department of Fish and Game,Jamie King

The population of eastern Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus) has grown so much - from 18,000 in the 1970s to more than 70,000 in 2010 - that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Service recently removed them from the U.S. Endangered Species List.

"We're delighted to see the recovery of the eastern population of Steller sea lions," Jim Balsiger, administrator of NOAA Fisheries' Alaska region, said in a statement. "We'll be working with the states and other partners to monitor this population to ensure its continued health."

The species, the largest type of eared seal, was first added to the list in 1990, after decades of being hunted for meat and hide left the population decimated.

When the eastern Steller sea lion was first added to the endangered list, conservationists set a goal of 3 percent annual population growth. Over the past two decades, the rate has exceeding that goal, with an average 4.18 percent rate. Once the goal is exceeded, species are taken off the list.

Even still, state marine wildlife managers in Alaska, California, Oregon and Washington will continue to closely monitor the population to protect against common threats related to boating and energy exploration.

The western group of the species, which carries the same name but is genetically distinct, remains on the endangered species list.

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